Fresh egg pasta stuffed with a garlicky, spinach-and-cheese filling form the bedrock of this modern classic – but what works best as the sauce: tomato or bechamel?
This is a vegetarian classic – yet, judging by an initial survey of my cookbook shelves, only in my head. Heading online, the ckbk digital library boasts precisely three results for spinach and ricotta cannelloni out of 75,000 on the site, leading me to suspect that, like balti, or General Tso’s chicken, it’s all but unknown in its apparent home country.
My Rome correspondents Rachel Roddy and Kristina Gill, however, quickly disabuse me of that notion – indeed, Roddy tells me that at her local fresh pasta shop, cannelloni di ricotta e spinaci now sell better than the classic meat filling. Gill, however, after kindly trawling through “maybe 30 books” in her more extensive collection, confirms that there are surprisingly few published recipes for it, even though The Silver Spoon, often cited as the authority on Italian cuisine, describes spinach and ricotta as the traditional filling for cannelloni.
The art of the tomato pasta sauce is distilled beautifully in this simple classic – a fiery delight to serve with penne
Our white stove is spattered red, as is the sleeve of my dress. There are thin, red skins blocking the sink and caught up in the plug, like seaweed on a ship’s chain. I have also just touched my contact lens with the same fingers that crumbled chillies, and finished a big bottle of olive oil. In return, though, we have just eaten the most satisfying and fiery tomato sauce.
As much as I enjoy the tinned tomato sauces that see us through the winter and spring, there is nothing like fresh tomato sauce. One that shouts summer, even when the sky doesn’t; one that is bright, jammy and slick with olive oil.
When the sun’s out, keep lunch simple with dishes you can prepare in advance, from chicken and couscous to panna cotta
A summer lunch should feel carefree and effortless. An assortment of dishes served cold or at room temperature, probably made earlier in the day. Perhaps the day before, brought to the table with very little fuss. (There is little worse than a cook arriving at the table hot and hassled.) I vote for one, and only one, dish that needs last-minute work. A plate of battered courgettes brought rustling from the kitchen or a dish of prawns tossed with butter, peas and dill. Even the dessert can be made first thing in the morning, or the previous night.
A simple pasta supper of garlicky prawns, juicy peas and sharp rocket, all finished off with the zing of lemon
Some recipes are so simple that you marvel at how so few ingredients can combine to such dramatically good effect. So is the case with this dish, where the rich and silky butter peppered with chilli and garlic coats the pasta and is given extra flavour from the wilted rocket and sweet basil. The whole recipe takes so little time that it has become a firm favourite of mine.
With some minor prep, this simple summer lasagne almost makes itself – just layer it up and slide it into the oven
When June arrives, I want to be out of the kitchen as much as possible. That’s not to say I don’t cook, but I want to spend the least possible time in the kitchen, so I can make the most of the long evenings outside with my family and friends. All routes point towards dishes that require little to no prep, which to my mind means either salads or bung-it-in-the-oven dishes, such as this pasta bake. It takes 15 minutes to put together, and uses good, flavourful, pre-prepared ingredients such as miso, sun-dried tomato paste and passata. As a bonus, it feeds a crowd, too.
Expand your repertoire with mash-up recipes from far-flung sources such as China, Sicily, Japan and Mexico
The word ‘fusion’ is often greeted with suspicion, which I find odd, because these days ideas travel around the world in the time it takes to refresh a mobile phone screen, and many chefs and home cooks seem perfectly happy to mix and match. Personally, I think it’s a great thing, because, so long as it is done considerately, the resulting cross-cultural hybrids can be both eye-opening and delicious. After all, many of the kitchen classics we now idolise would never have come into being if someone somewhere hadn’t thrown caution to the wind and played with a bit of fusion.
Feel every inch the artisan with this uncomplicated recipe for fresh pasta. Just add sauce
Though fresh pasta isn’t necessarily better than dried (it all depends on the sauce), you can’t beat the smug satisfaction that accompanies the silky, homemade stuff, whether scantily clad in a little sage butter or paired with a rich, meaty ragù. And once you’ve mastered the simple process, you’ll be turning out tagliatelle and tortellini with the nonchalance of a true Italian nonna.